For me, Twitter style should definitely be informal, chatty and lively, bearing in mind that I’m a BBC journalist and all that that entails. How informal can I be? Very, within the bounds of BBC impartiality and independence.
Style and construction also depend on the purpose of the tweet. Promoting content, I’d do a dropped intro style - one that doesn’t give away the main thrust of a piece but does give subject matter and hopefully intrigues.
I often simply ask a question, or find one that’s been asked by a follower and then retweet it, if I want to canvas opinion. But often the style depends too on the nature of the subject: immediate, short, punchy facts for rolling news; more considered statements for more analytical content. I find it often generates a lot of interest if I can tweet lines from a particularly interesting interview.
Inevitably there are pitfalls. Tweeting too much of one side of the argument, even with the ‘not my views’ caveat, can build up an impression that some followers will then attach to you. When you shorten an argument too much, to within 140 characters, you can write something that can be misconstrued. It’s worth being aware of that. See, for instance, the reaction to this tweet from May 2014.
And sometimes you need to engage with critics to explain yourself better, as in this exchange where people were fed up with me for photographing relatives of the MH17 victims.
There are many ways to write a bad tweet. Using too many hashtags drowns your message at birth. Writing clickbait questions annoys your audience. Trying to make too many points in 140 characters lands you in a swamp of abbreviated gibberish.
There’s probably no such thing as the perfect tweet because it all depends on who you are trying to talk to and what you want from them. That said, here are five good rules to follow:
- Make one point, simply. Make the most of the strongest fact/stat you have
- Avoid clutter. Use as little punctuation as possible and use specific hashtags, not speculative ones. For example, for events and known discussion points, check what’s trending. Emojis are getting into lots of tweets. They’re fine and can be funny/cute, but it can get a bit tedious if they're in every tweet
- Pictures: attaching a good image or graphic can really raise engagement, but only if you’ve got a good one or a behind-the-scenes image that’s exclusive to you (no bland stock images here, please)
- Timing: think about what your audience is doing; make sure your tweet chimes with their routines and doesn’t demand too much of them. If you want responses, keep it simple; don’t confuse them by asking for lengthy hashtags
- Be funny. It's not always appropriate with news but social media is not called ‘social’ for nothing. We communicate best when we are friendly and funny.
And don’t forget there are loads of useful tools to give you a better sense of what worked and what didn’t work with your chosen Twitter audience. The three free ones I'd recommend are:
- TweetDeck for scheduling tweets and monitoring lists
- Bitly for seeing your click-through rates and which tweets made people want to know more (just add a + to the end of any Bitly link url to see how your link performed)
- Twitter itself - check out your analytics tab to see which tweets reached the widest audience and which links were the most clicked. Think about (and save) the ones which did well: it will help shape the success of your future tweets. Warning: if you have a nerdy side this can soon get *very* addictive.
@suellewellyn, journalist and social media trainer
- Be helpful, open, honest and authentic. Social networks are just that - social
- Share interesting content - links to good stories, photos and video; tweet and retweet regularly. Share exclusives and ‘news you can use’. Add insight and comment
- Give credit where credit is due when retweeting, and acknowledge the original creator or source.
- Just broadcast - no-one wants to see one-way traffic. Your tweetstream should include a mix of links, conversations and retweets. Think dialogue not monologue
- Retweet something without reading it first. Is it accurate or unsubstantiated and offensive? Remember, a retweet could be seen as an endorsement
- Try to cover a mistake by deleting the tweet without explanation. Be transparent and, if you slip up, own up and apologise.
Choose the right tone for your show/audience. If people feel you're talking at them rather than to them, you're likely to alienate people rather than involve them in a conversation.
Use a photo whenever you can - pictures average a 35% boost in retweets. They stand out, catch the eye and are instantly more shareable.
Engage your audience by giving them something to do - for example, ask them to reply with their own thoughts/read this/click here for more.
For other pointers, take a look at a couple of well-followed BBC regional presenters: Peter Levy who presents Look North (East Yorkshire/Lincolnshire) and Paul Hudson who does the weather for Look North across Yorkshire. Merseyside reporter Andy Gill, BBC London’s travel correspondent Tom Edwards and Arif Ansari, our north-west political editor, also tweet regularly and well.
Never ever RT praise - it is generally an immense turn-off. If you have a book to promote/programme you want people to watch/buzz you want to generate, think of more creative ways to do it.
Don't tweet too much. If you are somewhere interesting, like on a news assignment, then perhaps tweet more. Otherwise, no need to tweet for the sake of it.
The ultimate challenge - especially for 'official' BBC tweeters - is to inject personality and humanity while remaining within guidelines. Good luck with that.
@MarcSettle, smartphone trainer
Keep your tweet to 100-120 characters (giving people space to RT it with a comment) and include a number of relevant hashtags - one or two is fine, any more is overkill.
Check the spelling and grammar before hitting ‘tweet’.
Always tweet with feeling - not like a corporate robot.
Think before you tweet - don't get yourself sued!
Reply to as many tweets as possible - there's no room for corporate drones on Twitter.
@davidschneider, actor, writer, comedian, social media consultant
My theory on good Twitter writing is that, whatever your account, you should write as if you’re emailing a friend, bearing in mind this email can be read by anyone.
And always, always be short and human (like a jockey). That’s my top tip.
One golden rule: don't tweet anything that you would be embarrassed to have said on air.
Other than that, more or less anything goes as long as it is interesting and relevant.
It's a personal choice, but for me I have a strict rule that I only use Twitter for work. That said, I use Twitter in a very informal way and, although I don't tweet about personal things, I suppose it is my voice.
For me, it’s about breaking/dispersing some new information - a breaking story or a new line from an interview you’ve just done. A quote over an image is also visually stimulating and will encourage followers to share it.
Keep it coming. Be the account that does THAT recurring thing (be it a weekly Twitter quiz or monthly Twitter interview).
Tweets on draft: when inspiration strikes, write a tweet, or the makings of a tweet, and save it for one of your less inspired days.
Know your @s from your elbow! Remember that starting a tweet with an @ means that it's only seen by that person and your mutual followers.